During week one of the California state-mandated social distance order, I did what I normally do when unduly stressed, and slipped right back into my eating disorder; not because I wanted to, but because eating disorders are tricky bitches that give those of us who suffer the illusion of control. If my world was turning upside down, the least I could do was control what entered my body. What entered my body, by the way (nothing), didn't make my body feel especially good.
I called my dietitian, who specializes in intuitive eating and works primarily with patients who have or had eating disorders. Eating disorders are so rarely about food. When I told her I wasn't eating, we addressed how I was feeling, and what I could turn to for comfort instead of my eating disorder (sleep, friends/family, yoga or deep breathing, getting outside, writing, etc). She instructed me not to run until I began eating again and together we created the following meal plan:
- Breakfast: Cream of rice with peanut butter and coffee.
- Lunch: Rice and beans with guacamole.
- Snack: Fruit smoothie
- Dinner: Same as lunch.
As you can see, this is not a glamorous meal plan, but any food is better than no food, or so I've been told. Quarantine turned everyone's life upside down, and the eating disorder recovery community felt it. Many of us were shook. Many people with any type of mental health concern were shook. Hell, most normal people are feeling shook right now, and that's to be expected.
Tensions are high everywhere, and many people, like me, have turned anxiety and stress inward on ourselves. There is widespread concern about gaining the "Quarantine-15" with tips and tricks to avoid weight gain during a worldwide pandemic coursing through the internet's veins. Although it's normal to do this during uncertain times, worrying about our bodies in addition to our livelihoods, loved ones, and overall health certainly doesn't add value to our lives. And just as some of us have turned our anxieties inward, many more are lashing out at each other, our fuses shortening beneath the pressure of elongated time spent alone and the uncertainty and fear that accompanies a pandemic.
We are upset at others who may not be following social distancing guidelines, bemoaning the stupidity of our fellow humans. We are upset at the media and our political leaders for continued mixed messaging and conflicting recommendations. We are holed up in homes and rooms that are too small to sustain us. Some of us have lost jobs. Some of us have lost loved ones. Our patience is understandably thin, but here's the thing: we all need empathy now more than ever.
I dove into my eating disorder when this all started, but I was able to pull myself out because I've done it before. I have the resources I need to help me. But the Sarah who lived a decade ago would not have dealt with these circumstances so easily. Years ago, I underwent a hip surgery that took me away from running for months. My body was broken, but so was my mind. Instead of focusing on rehabbing my hip, I doubled down on my eating disorder, feeling my body shrink and flatten. I loved that feeling. My clothes became loose and my obsession with the number on the scale each morning intensified dramatically. I was a walking shell of a human, but the deep, ferocious pain I endured was hidden from the rest of the world.
Many of us are silent sufferers, and you, yes you, reading these words, will never know how badly someone may be hurting. What pain they endure. Everyone handles stress and uncertainty differently. Some of us will sleep a lot and binge-watch Netflix. Some of us will throw ourselves into work or a creative project. Some of us will revert to old habits we know aren't healthy. I saw a woman at a grocery store last week with a cart full of *just* alcohol. But judging and condemning each other for behaviors we may not understand will only increase anxiety, fear, and ill will for each other.
Take a step back from the constant news cycle. Focus on things you can control, which happens to be almost nothing except your own attitude. Our current situation could last a long time, but social distancing is far from the hardest thing most of us will ever have to do. People are losing life. People are saving lives. This is a bizarre and discomfiting time. Be kind to each other and more importantly, be kind to yourself. 🙏🏼💕
P.S. If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder or poor mental health, you can find affordable therapy options HERE and HERE. These are remote options, but I personally find it easier to open up to a therapist who isn't staring me in the face. My dietitian also recommended the following book, which I have read and can verify didn't suck: Neural Rewiring for Eating Disorder Recovery for real and meaningful mental freedom by Tabitha Farrar.